Laws On Cutting Trees In The Philippines

Laws On Cutting Trees In The Philippines





Disclaimer

Nothing you read here is to be taken as legal advice or professional guidance. This is our personal experience that we are sharing with you. If you see something in this post that is incorrect or if you want to add something, then let us know through the comment section at the bottom of this article.
 

Table Of Contents

Our Personal Experience With Tree Cutting In The Philippines 


Depending on the situation you may obtain a tree cutting permit from DENR, PCA or your local barangay.

We have engaged in tree cutting during construction and maintenance of our home and property. The land only had a handful of coconut trees that needed to be cleared. This was easy to do, as the land had been converted to residential vs. agricultural use and thus the removal was allowed under RA 10593 upon payment of the required fees per tree in order to obtain a permit from the PCA (Philippine Coconut Authority).

We also used other trees from nearby properties in the construction of our home. Permits for cutting those trees were obtained from the barangay. None of those other trees were "premium species," which shall be discussed in detail later in this post.

During the building of our fence several mahogany trees had to be cut and that required a DENR permit. 

After a few years living here another tree issue grew up. One of the neighbor's trees began to threaten our electric cable. The power co-op said that they were only responsible for trees that encroach upon the main cables. The co-op informed us that it was the customer's responsibility to deal with trees that threaten cables in the local loop (from the pole to the house). The Major update on Anti-Obstruction Law at the end of this article addresses this issue and if we had the same problem today it would turn out differently. This particular tree threatened not only our power line, but also the power line feeding the barangay streetlamps. The tree was also overhanging a main road and presented a hazard to anyone passing by. We had discussed the danger with our neighbor and the possibility that if the tree came down that it could take down two power lines and possibly cause a traffic accident or electrocute people nearby. Ultimately, the barangay pitched in to help with removing the offending tree. 

REPUBLIC ACT NO. 386 THE CIVIL CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES addresses that last example:
Article 483. Whenever a large tree threatens to fall in such a way as to cause damage to the land or tenement of another or to travelers over a public or private road, the owner of the tree shall be obliged to fell and remove it; and should he not do so, it shall be done at his expense by order of the administrative authorities. (390a)
According to the above law, since public safety and a public road is involved the barangay should get involved to help resolve the problem. And they did.

Articles 679 and 680 of RA 386 goes in to detail regarding trees that affect adjoining properties:
Article 679: No trees shall be planted near a tenement or piece of land belonging to another except at the distance authorized by the ordinances or customs of the place, and, in the absence thereof, at a distance of at least two meters from the dividing line of the estates if tall trees are planted and at a distance of at least fifty centimeters if shrubs or small trees are planted.

Every landowner shall have the right to demand that trees hereafter planted at a shorter distance from his land or tenement be uprooted.

The provisions of this article also apply to trees which have grown spontaneously. (591a)

Article 680. If the branches of any tree should extend over a neighboring estate, tenement, garden or yard, the owner of the latter shall have the right to demand that they be cut off insofar as they may spread over his property, and, if it be the roots of a neighboring tree which should penetrate into the land of another, the latter may cut them off himself within his property. (592)
There are no tree cops going around assuring compliance with these two articles. You are going to have to work with your neighbor if there is a problem tree. 

Take note of the very specific wording: the owner of the adversely affected property has "the right to demand," yet nothing is said about the owner of the offending tree(s) having a responsibility or legal obligation to respond to the demand. Unless the tree is an imminent threat to life and or property the only real power that the adversely affected land owner seems to have is to cut roots that actually cross the property line.

Article 680 does not explicitly state that you can cut the branches of your neighbor's tree without permission if they are overhanging your property, which means you don't have legal right to do it. You need to get your neighbor's permission in writing in order to cut overhanging branches. 

It may be necessary to access the property that the tree is growing on in order to make a healthy cut. If you improperly cut overhanging limbs from your side of the property line it may actually create a more dangerous tree and potentially leave that you open to liability if this is done without permission from the owner of the tree. Cutting limbs at the property line (rather than near the tree) may damage a tree, make it unstable or create a wound that allows pests and disease to enter. Limbs need to be cut at the branch collar and if they are cut too long they will not heal.

Cutting the roots can cause at least as much damage to a tree as cutting the branches (including creating a hazardous tree). Perhaps the law gives the owner of an encroached property the specific right to cut roots and not branches because roots have the potential to be more damaging to the structural integrity of a building and are more of an physical threat to a structure (even if the fruit of such a threat might be years in the future). Tree roots are a known cause of subsidence due to soil displacement, particularly in clay soils when roots infiltrate and consume moisture causing clay soils to shrink. This same problem can affect concrete walls. The concrete block septic systems used in the Philippines are also susceptible to root infiltration. Pipes and concrete walkways are also vulnerable.

Another reason why Philippine law might view roots and limbs differently is due to the fact that roots actually attach to physical real property (see section on overhanging fruit). 

People often plant trees right on the property line and over time the tree line creeps. This often produces the belief in the tree owners that the property line should also move and they will fight for it. Be watchful for this scenario especially if your property is not yet fenced.

Article 430 of RA 386 provides land owners with the explicit right to enclose their property with a physical fence/wall:
Every owner may enclose or fence his land or tenements by means of walls, ditches, live or dead hedges, or by any other means without detriment to servitudes constituted thereon.
Tree roots are capable of depriving a land owner of the right to enclose their property, destroying existing fencing and creating a substantial encroachment on property. If you have first hand experience dealing with the invasive buttress roots of mahogany and other types of trees, then you understand how detrimental they can be to a property line and any fencing that may be constructed upon it.

In spite of the fact that Article 680 gives property owners the right to cut encroaching roots doing so can cause a healthy tree to become a serious threat to life and property. In such cases the entire tree may need to be cut down and not just the roots and from this point we venture into various problematic scenarios. I can see how this situation can cause a lot of conflict among neighbors.

I cannot advise anyone what to do, but I can tell you what we might do if a neighbor's tree(s) were threatening to fall on our property or if their branches were damaging or threatening to damage our house:
  • Talk to the neighbor. This is always the first step.
  • Talk with a barangay official. If we cannot work it out with the neighbor, then we may have to escalate the matter to the barangay. What if the person with whom we are having issues is a Barangay official or is related to them?
  • Talk to DENR. You might be able to get a permit from DENR or even the barangay to cut problem trees and or overhanging branches (not a good idea to just cut branches without proper notification of and permission from the tree owner).
  • Complain as soon as a problem arises and not allow time to drag because silence is consent and tree problems only grow larger with time.
  • Document every action you undertake to resolve the issue including who you talk to, when you talked to them and what was said.
  • If all else fails and it really matters, then it might be time to consult an attorney.
If a tree is an immediate threat to persons or property due to the possibility that it may fall, then it is subject to Article 483 of the civil code. Otherwise, diplomacy might be the best tool to keep your neighbor's tree away from the property line. And getting what you require from your neighbors may take a lot of diplomacy. It is a good idea to maintain a good relationship with every owner of property that adjoins yours, though this is not always possible.

DENR: Go-To Authority For Tree Cutting Questions


Before you cut trees you need to speak with the local DENR (Department of Environmental and Natural Resources) office. This is true whether you are the owner of the trees in question or if your neighbor has agreed to remove trees that are in some way encroaching your property.

The local offices of DENR are called CENRO (Community Environment and Natural Resources Office). After you explain the situation to them they can inform you of the laws and regulations and tell you what permits you need and who can issue them to you.

On many occasions, permit issuance is delegated to the barangay level.

Coconut trees are a separate issue and are addressed later.

If a neighbor's tree is damaging your property and or is a potential threat, then you may contact DENR. DENR may be willing to issue a permit to cut down or trim the tree(s).

The requirements for a tree cutting permit might vary, but this list is good for conveying the general idea:
1) Letter request addressed to Director of your local DENR, NCR (letter must state reason for cutting the tree(s))
2) Government issued identification of the requesting party
3) LGU Endorsement/Certification of No Objection (Municipality and Barangay) (must state "no objection" not "approve")
4) Copy of Transfer Certificate of Title (or OCT as applicable) and or Tax Declaration
5) Photo(s) of Tree and any damage that the tree may be causing to the property
6) Sketch Map showing the location of the Tree(s)
Additionally: 
1) The person requesting the tree(s) to be cut is responsible for acquiring a licensed contractor to cut the tree(s) upon issuance of permit.
2) If the person requesting the tree(s) to be cut is not the owner of the affected property, then DENR may or may not accept a signed and notarized copy of power of attorney.
3) The person requesting the tree(s) to be cut may be required to plant seedlings.
4) DENR may need to inspect the location.
Be prepared for more or less in the way of documentary requirements.

Once documentary requirements have been met and all documents have been presented to CENRO the general process for receiving the permits is as follows:
  • Receive Payment Order 
  • Pay inventory fee (P1,200/hectare) for planted and naturally growing trees but no payment required for less than 20 trees or if inventory will be conducted by the customer
  • If Inventory undertaken by customer:
  • Timber Inventory/Inspection Report with Tally Sheet/Stand and Stock Table, and Pictures
  • Tree Charting Map
The information above is only to give the reader an approximation of what is required. The process and requirements for a specific case may be simpler or more complicated. This is why I reiterate that it is necessary to discuss the specifics with CENRO.

A more detailed explanation of general permit requirements is available on the DENR website.

Laws Regulating Cutting Of Coconut Trees


In the case of coconut trees the PCA issues the permit. The Coconut Preservation Act of 1995, RA 8048, regulates the cutting down of coconut trees. RA 8048 was amended by RA 10593.

Sec. 4 describes the exceptions to the prohibition on cutting down coconut trees. There are several, but the two that are most pertinent to expat circumstances are cases #1 and #2:

1) The tree poses a threat to life and or property.

When any tree becomes a threat to life or property it falls under Article 483 of RA 386, discussed earlier in this post. In every case I would involve the appropriate government agencies before action is taken to assure that all necessary permits are in order and no laws are broken.

2) The property has been converted to residential, commercial or industrial type land use.

In the case of conversion of land use type, this can be done through the municipal assessor. When you convert the land to residential use you then need to pay the amended fee of P100 per tree and, as the regulation states, since the land has been converted to residential you are exempt from the replanting requirement.

Premium Tree Species


For years I have heard a lot of rumors about "premium trees." Many individuals I have spoken with have various ideas about what trees are included within the definition of the term. Frequently narra and mahogany come up and the Benguet Pine. Some mahogany species found in the Philippines are not native and are increasingly seen as invasive and having a negative impact upon native species within the environment. The toona calantas (aka kalantas & Philippine Cedar) is listed in the table below as a premium species. Toona calantas is native to the Philippines and toona is a genus within the mahogany family.

The earliest record I could find on the regulation of the permitting of the cutting of premium trees is a DENR Administrative Order No. 78 from 1987 that allows cutting premium hardwood trees on private land. This document lists twenty species of tree as premium hardwood species.

In 1992 the DENR issued Administrative Order No. 46 that delists acacia as one of the premium hardwood species.

Below I have provided a table showing the common and scientific names from the 1992 DENR list of premium trees:



Since this list is taken from a document that was issued almost 30 years ago it is possible that other names have been added to or taken from the listing. I hope to update this post with a more recent list when I can find one.

Ordinary Trees & Other Forest Products


Other "forest products" and trees that are not among the premium trees listing are still regulated and permits may still be required for cutting and or clearing them from private land.

The term "forest product" is defined in Presidential Decree 705 Section 3:
q) Forest product means timber, pulpwood, firewood, bark, tree top, resin, gum, wood, oil, honey, beeswax, nipa, rattan, or other forest growth such as grass, shrub, and flowering plant, the associated water, fish, game, scenic, historical, recreational and geologic resources in forest lands.
The same document/section also defines what is meant by forest lands:
d) Forest lands include the public forest, the permanent forest or forest reserves, and forest reservations.
Sec. 68 of PD 705 sheds light on an expanded definition of "forest products" to include materials defined in Sec 3(d) as pertaining to those same products when found on private lands:
SECTION 68. Cutting, Gathering and/or Collecting Timber or Other Products Without License. — Any person who shall cut, gather, collect, or remove timber or other forest products from any forest land, or timber from alienable and disposable public lands, or from private lands, without any authority under a license agreement, lease, license or permit, shall be guilty of qualified theft as defined and punished under Articles 309 and 310 of the Revised Penal Code:

Provided, That in the case of partnership, association or corporation, the officers who ordered the cutting, gathering or collecting shall be liable, and if such officers are aliens, they shall, in addition to the penalty, be deported without further proceedings on the part of the Commission on Immigration and Deportation.
"Any person who shall cut, gather, collect, or remove timber or other forest products...from private lands..."

If nothing else, the above statement should give any person pause before they go out to cut down any plant on their land in the Philippines. Talk to the local DENR first. This applies doubly to foreigners, as the latter part of Sec. 68 states that in addition to any jail and monetary penalties a foreigner shall also be deported without the opportunity for any hearing before the Commission on Immigration and Deportation.


Chainsaw Ownership Is Regulated In The Philippines


It is not only the cutting of trees that can get you into hot water in the Philippines. Being in possession of a chainsaw can also attract unwanted attention.

R.A. 9175, otherwise known as the Chainsaw Act of 2002 regulates the ownership of chainsaws in the Philippines:
Section 5. Persons Authorized to Possess and Use a Chain Saw. - The Department is hereby authorized to issue permits to possess and/or use a chain saw for the felling land/or cutting of trees, timber and other forest or agro-forest products to any applicant who:
a) has a subsisting timber license agreement, production sharing agreement, or similar agreements, or a private land timber permit;

b) is an orchard and fruit tree farmer;

c) is an industrial tree farmer;

d) is a licensed wood processor and the chain saw shall be used for the cutting of timber that has been legally sold to said applicant; or


e) shall use the chain saw for a legal purpose.
Sec. 5(e) might be used by an individual private landowner (or perhaps their foreign spouse) to obtain license for a chainsaw for personal use.

Sec. 6 states that license is valid for two years for a commercial licensee and five years for noncommercial licensees. Do not forget to renew the license or you are in violation of the law.

Sec. 7 describes penalties:
(a) Selling, Purchasing, Re-selling, Transferring, Distributing or Possessing a Chain Saw Without a Proper Permit. - Any person who sells, purchases, transfer the ownership, distributes or otherwise disposes or possesses a chain saw without first securing the necessary permit from the Department shall be punished with imprisonment of four (4) years, two (2) months and one (1) day to six (6) years or a fine of not less than Fifteen thousand pesos (P15,000.00) but not more Thirty thousand pesos (30,000.00) or both at the discretion of the court, and the chain saw/s confiscated in favor of the government.

(4) Actual Unlawful Use of Chain Saw. - Any person who is found to be in possession of a chain saw and uses the same to cut trees and timber in forest land or elsewhere except as authorized by the Department shall be penalized with imprisonment of six (6) years and one (1) day to eight (8) years or a fine of not less than Thirty thousand pesos (P30,000.00) but not more than Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) or both at the discretion of the court without prejudice to being prosecuted for a separate offense that may have been simultaneously committed. The chain saw unlawfully used shall be likewise confiscated in favor of the government.
Even if you are allowed to obtain a licensed chainsaw is it really worth the risk and trouble of having one? There are a lot of ways to run afoul of the law by owning a chainsaw.

And section 7 closes out with this admonition:
If the violation under this Section is committed by or through the command or order of another person, partnership or corporation, the penalties herein provided shall likewise be imposed on such other person, or the responsible officer(s) in such partnership or corporation.
If you hire someone to cut down the trees and there is no proper permit, then both of you are on the hook for any laws broken. Even if you are not the owner of the chainsaw you still commanded the person doing the cutting without doing your due diligence to make sure that they were following the law.

Avoid Harming Trees 


Presidential Decree No. 953 mainly deals with planting of trees on public lands and in subdivisions (requirements for developers), as well as prohibition against cutting or damaging vegetation in such areas. This law would not generally touch an expat - unless, for example, you were to run your vehicle by accident into a tree on public land. Otherwise, I would trust that most expats do not go out chopping trees down on public land in the Philippines. Honestly, if you are that bored, then it's way past time to go home.

PD 953 and Republic Act 3571 have been cited in cases where campaign materials have been nailed or otherwise illegally affixed to trees. So do not go around nailing things to the trees.

Anti-Obstruction Law Has Passed


There are many stories about persons who have planted fast growing trees under major main power lines with explicit intent to disrupt power. Major blackouts have been caused in the Philippines due to this behavior and this is the cause for the newly passed Republic Act 11361 known as the Anti-Obstruction Law. I have included some relevant parts of the new law below.

Section 5 defines the creation of an easement along the path of the "power line corridor":
Power Line Corridor. – The land beneath, the air spaces surrounding, and the area traversed by power lines including its horizontal, vertical, and similar clearance requirements shall constitute the power line corridor, which shall at all times be kept clear and free from any power line obstructions, dangerous structures, hazardous activities and improvements, and other similar circumstances in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

The horizontal, vertical, and other similar clearance requirements that constitute the power line corridor shall be determined by the Board of Electrical Engineering and approved by the Department of Energy (DOE), and shall be in accordance with the current Philippine Electrical Code.

In case where the power line corridor is wholly or partially located within a private property not owned by the owner or operator of the power lines, it shall constitute a legal easement upon the private property in accordance with the relevant provisions under Book II, Title VII, Chapter 2 of the Civil Code, except if the owner or operator of the power lines shall acquire, lease, or enter into other gratuitous or onerous arrangement with the property owner. In the case of legal easement, the owner of the private property shall be compensated the proper easement fee pursuant to the provisions of the Civil Code and other relevant laws, rules, and regulations.
The second paragraph refers to clearances. Clearances can be found in Annex A of the IRR for RA 11361. Please note that the linked document is only available in draft form at the time of this writing. In case it disappears you can also get it here.

Section 6 describes what land owners are prohibited from doing in proximity to power lines:
Prohibited Acts. - It is hereby declared unlawful for any person, whether natural or juridical, public or private, to:
(a) Plant or cause to be planted tall growing plants, including plants of whatever kind, variety, or height within the power line corridor;

(b) Construct or erect any hazardous improvements within the power line corridor;

(c) Conduct or perform any hazardous activities within the power line corridor;

(d) Prevent or refuse duly authorized agents of the owner or operator of power lines, entry to the property in the performance of acts enumerated under Section 7: Provided, that such entry is in accordance with the provisions of Section 8; and

(e) Perform other analogous acts or activities, which will impair the conveyance of electricity and cause damage to power lines
There have been cases in the Philippines where property owners purposefully planted fast growing tree directly beneath power lines knowing that this would eventually cause power disruption. When the inevitable power outage occurred the property owners would refuse to allow power companies onto the property to repair the lines. This activity has caused major and extended blackouts and is one of the main reasons for the law.

Section 6 above specifically outlaws obstructive activities and Section 7 below provides power companies with the specific right to access the property and fix damaged power lines and equipment:
Prevention and Removal of Power Line Obstruction on Public Property or on Property Owned by Owner or Operator of Power Lines. – In cases where the power line corridor is wholly or partially located within public property or on property owned by the owner or operator of the power lines, the owner or operator of power lines shall have the right to enter the said property to prevent and remove any power line obstruction, and in particular, perform the following acts:

(a) To conduct maintenance and inspection activities within the power line corridor;

(c) To conduct trimming, pruning, cutting, or clearing activities for tall growing plants within the power line corridor without securing prior clearance or permit from, but with due notice to, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) in the case of coconut trees, the concerned local government units (LGUs), and other relevant government agencies;
Section 8 states that the property owner has a responsibility to prevent power line obstructions and to enlist the assistance of the power company when necessary to prevent or clear obstructions. It also gives the power company the unilateral right to do so: 
Prevention and Removal of Power Line Obstruction on Private Property. – The owner or operator of power lines shall have the primary duty and responsibility to remove power line obstructions. In cases where the power line corridor is wholly or partially located within a private property, the property owner shall coordinate and assist the owner or operator of the power lines by facilitating the necessary access in order to perform the acts enumerated in Section 7.

The property owner shall have the primary duty and responsibility to prevent power line obstructions and to inform the owner or operator of the power line of their existence. In the performance of these acts, the property owner shall be entitled to necessary assistance such as, but not limited to, education and information, and technical and manpower support from the owner or operator of power lines.

In the event that the property owner fails to perform any duty and responsibility under the preceding paragraphs, the owner or operator of the power lines shall have the right to access the power line corridor in order to undertake the acts enumerated under Section 7: Provided, That the entry to private property may only be effected after due notice to, and proper coordination with the property owner: Provided, however, That the foregoing shall no longer be required to avert an imminent danger posed by a power line obstruction in accordance with Article 432 of the Civil Code.
Earlier this year (2019) we were told by our local power co-op that it was the property owner's responsibility to clear trees that obstruct the service drop. Section 8 above appears to place this obligation jointly upon the property owner and the power company: "the property owner shall be entitled to necessary assistance such as, but not limited to... technical and manpower support from the owner or operator of power lines". 

Section 9 provides for government and police assistance for power companies to accomplish their necessary tasks in clearing power obstructions:
Assistance from Local Government Units, Philippine National Police, and Armed Forces of the Philippines. - In the performance of the acts under Sections 7 and 8, the owner or operator of the power lines may seek the assistance of LGU officials, the Philippine National Police (PNP), or the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP): Provided, That the LGU officials, the PNP, or the AFP shall render such assistance, as may be deemed necessary.
Section 12 removes legal consequences of cutting and removing all types of trees and other forest products in the course of complying with RA 11361:
Gathering, Collecting, Removing, and Transporting of Timber, Forest Products, and Coconut Lumber. - Gathering, collecting, removing, and transporting of timber, forest products, and coconut lumber as a result of acts performed under Sections 7 and 8 shall not be considered illegal acts: Provided, That due notice is given to the DENR, and the PCA in the case of coconut lumber, and other relevant government agencies.
The phrase "due notice" indicates that the above paragraph is not carte blanche. In a non-emergency situation it would seem that there is not much excuse for not getting the go-ahead from DENR and or PCA.

Section 15 describes penalties for violations of RA 11361:
Penalties. - Without prejudice to civil and administrative liability, the following penalties shall be imposed upon any person, both natural and juridical, found guilty of committing any of the prohibited acts specified in Section 6 of this Act:

(a) First Offense – the penalty of arresto mayor or a fine of Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00), or both, at the discretion of the court;
 

(b) Second Offense – the penalty of prision correccional or a fine of One hundred thousand pesos (P100,000.00), or both, at the discretion of the court; and
 

(c) Third Offense – the penalty of prision mayor or a fine of Two hundred thousand pesos (P200,000.00), or both, at the discretion of the court.
If the offenses are committed by or in conspiracy with an officer or employee of the owner or operator of the power line, such officer or employee shall suffer a penalty one (1)degree higher than the penalty provided herein.
The local building official who issued a building permit in violation of Section 14 of this Act shall be meted a penalty one (1) degree higher than the penalty provided herein and shall forthwith suffer the penalty of dismissal.

Can You Pick The Fruit Of Overhanging Branches?


This information is again only my opinion, as a layperson. This is not legal advice. 

It appears to me that the law answers the fruit question through Article 415, Paragraph 2 of REPUBLIC ACT NO. 386 THE CIVIL CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES
Immovable Property: Trees, plants, and growing fruits, while they are attached to the land or form an integral part of an immovable;
From the above statement it is my opinion that you cannot pick the fruit in that, while it is attached to the tree it remains as the immovable property of your neighbor. If the fruit falls on its own, then it is no longer growing, no longer attached and no longer an integral part of an immovable and therefore it becomes the property of the owner of the land upon which it falls. This seems to be a reasonable interpretation, however, I am not an attorney so you should talk with one of those about this.

That said, if you have a good relationship with your neighbor, then they will probably not mind you picking fruit from overhanging branches (ask first). However, if you do not have a good relationship, then it will be one more reason for bad blood between you.

And before I close this section I would like to add that this illustrates the reason why branches and roots are treated differently by the law: you can cut roots, but not branches. The roots encroach the land, whereas the branch, so long as it remains attached to the tree is considered to be non-encroaching and you cannot cut it. So this begs the question: what if a branch is bending down so far that it touches the ground? That's why God made attorneys...to answer such questions.

The Bottom Line


Talk to your local DENR so that you can know the specifics. Before you do anything or ask anyone else to touch any plant or tree make an appointment to speak with DENR-CENRO where you live. Make certain that you have all required permits from the appropriate and applicable agencies. 

It is best to hire an experienced local to do your tree cutting. If they use a chainsaw, ask to see their chainsaw license and make a copy of it. If they do not have a license for their chainsaw FIND SOMEONE ELSE to do the work. The person you hire should sign a contract with a clause in it that they follow all applicable laws.

Do not get caught transporting lumber without a receipt. If you bought it from an individual instead of a business, then you better be certain they had a permit and I would get a copy of that permit in addition to a receipt. If you get caught carrying lumber that was cut with no permit you will be in big trouble.

If you are an expat and you are looking for a place to live with your Filipino spouse, then consider the trees that are growing on the property and those that are growing on properties adjoining it. Will the trees growing on that property have to be removed for construction? Will the trees ever be a threat to neighboring properties, power lines or a public street? Will the trees on an adjoining property become a threat to your power line, buildings or anything else on the land that you are thinking about buying?

In some cases the trees do not come with the property when you buy it and must be purchased separately. Trees and other vegetation might actually be owned by a third party. The owner may not want to sell them just yet or ever. If trees are or may become a big issue, then maybe it is best to look for another property. Maybe it would be better to get a condo in the city. Perhaps it might be a good idea to rent. It's up to you and your situation. Good luck with your decision.

The main point to understand and take away from this post is that trees are a very important constituent of the ancient cultural heritage of the Philippines. The roots of the trees go deeply into the roots of the people and the nation.

When you come to live in the Philippines remember to take care how you treat the trees.

A great resource that details scores of Philippine trees and their uses can be found at malatumbaga.com.

If any of the links above for supporting documents are dead, then you may be able to locate the document that you want on our Documents Page.

Philippines Expat Cost Of Living

Philippines Expat Cost Of Living





Table Of Contents:

UPDATE December 2020



When we compare this table to the one below from 18 months ago the peso based cost shows a 3.7% increase. However, when we look at the dollar based cost the increase is 12.37%. This is due primarily to a roughly 7.7% decline in the dollar to the peso.

Philippines Cost Of Living


Below I have provided a general estimate of the monthly and yearly cost of living for our family of three.

 
Phone/Internet: We have prepaid phone and typically load 200-300PHP per month. We have THEPLAN999 with Globe for Internet. It comes with 16 gigs general data plus one for FaceBook. We get additional gigs for 50PHP, but with COVID they bumped it to 2 gigs. We have been using over 30 gigs per month lately so our phone/Internet bill is closer to 1500PHP.
 
Cable TV is through the local co-op. All I care about is FOX, CNN and the three movie channels (and occasionally FOX network). It runs just over $7 per month.
 
PhilHealth increased their premium for self paying citizens (plus dependents) to 3600PHP per year.

The costs shown do not include housing or vehicle expenses, as we own our house and land and we do not have a vehicle.

We also do not have water and sewer expenses, because we have our own septic and well.

The miscellaneous expense of 150,000PHP per year is to cover the unexpected.

Vehicle expense would add another ~150,000PHP per year: 

  • 25,000 for insurance & LTO (Land Transportation Office)
  • 30,000 for maintenance 
  • add another 50,000 per year for depreciation
  • Lost opportunity cost. You could stick that million pesos into  rural bank CDs and earn maybe 2.5%/25,000PHP per-annum. Or in the US stock market and earn 20-50% now and then lose it all next year. 
  • ~20,000PHP per year for fuel (driving 3,600 kilometers per year @ 9 kilometers to the liter @ 48PHP per liter)

This is for a sedan or a used vehicle that might cost under about one million PHP. It could go higher or lower.

When we add that 150,000PHP and yearly rent/lease of 300,000-500,000PHP it brings the yearly total cost of living to about one million PHP or more.

The Philhealth cost you see there is for your Filipino citizen spouse and children only so add in 17,000 PHP (15,000 PHP if you have an SSRV) for your non-citizen Philhealth coverage.

Travel/entertainment will drive the numbers up.

Of course you could live cheaper depending upon your lifestyle.

Buying A Vehicle


The 150,000PHP I mentioned above as the annual cost of owning a vehicle is a low end figure. It can always get much higher. There are many things to consider before purchasing a vehicle in the Philippines.

Do you really need a car in the Philippines? We live in a somewhat remote rural area. We have lived here for a decade with no car. Public transport works well for us. 

For emergencies we have two ambulance services that we can use and  we have used one of them a couple of times. I think they do a much better job transporting us than we could have in an emergency situation. 

We use public transport jeepneys, tricycles, vans and buses for most of our needs and we rarely experience any issues. We have also had many hired drivers over the years and I have seen their bad experiences getting sideswiped in traffic or having their vehicle struck by some unknown person in the parking lot. I do not envy those problems.

You will have no problems with accessing public transportation in the cities. Of course my interpretation of "no problems" may be very different from yours. The biggest problem that you might have is inconvenience in waiting for a ride. 

But totaling your vehicle or being responsible for an accident where you damage your vehicle, other people's property or injure other people is a pretty big inconvenience.

With that in mind, consider that your cost of ownership could turn into multiple millions of pesos in a moment of time with one wrong move.
 
Two things that your own vehicle can gain for you are privacy and freedom to come and go at your leisure.

So, do you really need to buy a vehicle in the Philippines?

Covid has changed my mind a bit about buying a car. The restrictions have made public transportation laborious. For now we have been doing shopping and Immigration travel with acquaintances who have personal vehicles, but I am gearing up to buy a vehicle of our own as soon as the demolition in front of our house is concluded.

Inflation & Exchange Rate Can Destroy An Expat Budget


The exchange rate has been as low as 39PHP to the dollar since I have lived in the Philippines. At 39PHP one million pesos would cost $25,641. That is a $5000 increase from where it is now (August 2020)!

The most often overlooked budget gotcha is inflation. A quick way to estimate where your cost of living might be in the future is to use the "rule of 70." The rule of 70 just means that you take the annual rate of inflation and divide it into 70. The quotient is the approximate number of years that it will take your current cost of living to double. If we make 3% our rate of inflation we find that in about 24 years our current 1 million PHP budget could become 2 million PHP or about $40,000 at the current exchange rate.

That may concern anyone who thinks that they have just enough to retire to the Philippines right now with their current fixed income.

If your income cannot at least keep pace with inflation, then you might be in trouble when you are too old to do anything about it.

Inflation has not been bad overall per year since I have lived here, but I don't want anyone throwing caution to the wind because I stated something here that makes you think that you do not need to worry about inflation as much as you should. The Philippines is entering a period of rapid development and that means one thing: everything will cost more and more.

Cost Of Groceries


Note: through Lazada and Shopee you can get almost anything you want shipped to almost any location in the Philippines.

You can get just about anything in the Philippines that you can get in the US. 

Even in a relatively remote place, like where we live, we are still able to find a lot of the grocery items that we liked back in the states.

Just a few examples of the typical items you can find in grocery stores in the Philippines:


This 330ml bottle of Tabasco costs about 460PHP ($9). That is about 50% higher than what you might pay for this item in the US.


The Kraft cheddar cheese shown in the photo above is listed on my receipt as 500g, but the box says 440g. That is about 2oz difference. 440g is just shy of one pound. It costs 195PHP ($3.75) and it is worth its weight in gold.

The Koko Krunch used to be 187PHP, but it recently increased to 205PHP. The increase is due to new taxes on sugary items.

The Ideal brand macaroni is the best brand IMO and it costs 102PHP for a kilo.

The White King flour costs 96PHP for a kilo and it is also a jewel of an item.



From the left, the Ram corn costs 33PHP.

The Clara Ole blueberry jam is a fantastic product that makes life more enjoyable and is a good value at 121PHP.

The red beans and diced tomatoes are both imported from Italy and each costs 47PHP.

The calamansi sauce is another item that recently went up about 50% to 64PHP.

The nata de coco on the far right costs 48PHP.

The canned fish in the forefront is priced at 36PHP.

When we lived in the US our family went through gallons of vitamin D whole milk every week. We had a tough time finding a suitable replacement. 

Because the stores have a tough time keeping it on the shelves we like to keep 20-30 gallons on hand at any given time:

Alaska Milk
The image above shows roughly 90 one liter boxes of Alaska Milk. There are also three boxes of Magnolia on the right. For comparison, Magnolia is at the bottom of my list of favorite milk options. It is generally about 10PHP more per box than Alaska and tastes nowhere near as good IMO. Jolly Cow is the only brand that is less expensive than Alaska, costing about 75PHP. Jolly Cow is not as good as Alaska, but I do prefer it to Magnolia. Nestle is my #2 choice for flavor and it costs as much as Magnolia. But still for overall value Alaska is far ahead of the field.


The Alaska milk products that we have purchased have been sourced from Thailand, New Zealand and Australia. The taste varies slightly between them. For about the last year the only one that I have seen is the Thailand variant.

All I can say is that I love Alaska milk. There is no regular old homogenized milk available where we are and this Alaska UHT product is a pretty good replacement. It costs 78PHP per liter, which at 52 PHP per dollar makes the cost about $5.77 per gallon.

Nescafe instant is the only coffee that is always available to us. A 100g bag costs about 75PHP. It is good, as far as instant coffee goes. 

There are occasionally some better options available:

Folgers Ground Coffee
Sometimes we can find Folgers Classic Roast and 100% Columbian.

The Classic Roast costs 399PHP for an 11.3 oz. plastic canister, whereas the Columbian is 599PHP for a 10.3 oz. canister.

The difference is that the Columbian uses 100% Arabica beans where the Classic uses a robusta blend:


They are both better than the Nescafe, but the Columbian is fantastic. Arabica beans have less caffeine and more flavor than the robusta, but the downside is that they tend to be more acidic. After 2-3 weeks of drinking the Columbian I began experiencing acid problems with my stomach.

The Magnolia cage free brown eggs are another of our favorites. They cost 88PHP for this package of 7 eggs.



If you live in the Philippines, then one thing that you cannot live without is coconut oil. We burn through a 1.85 liter bottle like the one above every month. This item costs 230PHP.



If you grew up in the US, like me, then you are used to chicken fried in corn oil. We do prefer using corn oil for chicken, but it is strictly for the chicken, as nothing else will taste right when fried in corn oil - except for maybe french fries. Fish fried in corn oil is a definite no-go.
 
Whole chicken runs about 185PHP per kilo, while cubed pork is higher at 250PHP per kilo for adobo cut. Ground beef tends to be more expensive at around 370PHP per kilo (~$3.40 per pound).

If you like cheese, then you may be able to find expensive and varieties and the local supermarket if you live in a larger city in the Islands, but for a good general purpose cheese we like Kraft Cheddar:

Kraft Cheddar Cheese
These one pound boxes cost just under 200PHP and we try to keep several of them because of the shortages throughout the year.

After removing it from the box and its plastic wrapper, Kraft Cheddar seems to improve in taste and texture after 2-3 weeks in an airtight container in the fridge. 

Magnolia makes a box cheese too, but Kraft beats it hands down IMO. The one time I might suggest Magnolia Quickmelt over Kraft Cheddar is when you need a pizza topping. The cheddar does not melt well. Alternately, you might be able to find shredded mozzarella.

We buy white rice at the local market on market day, but for whole grain varieties we like Harvester's brand red rice:

Harvester's Red Rice
This five kilo bag of red rice costs 330PHP. This whole grain red rice provides a nice alternative to white rice and helps to lower the overall glycemic load of our diet.

When you buy rice at the supermarket in these bags make sure they are airtight and check them well for weevils. They can still have weevils even if the bag is airtight because the weevils get in before the manufacturer seals the bags.

Ideal is our favorite pasta brand, but with the lock-down there was no Ideal and so we had to try an alternative:


We tried the locally milled and packaged pasta and found it to be very good. It costs about 30% less than the branded varieties and the quality is comparable.

The main problem with pasta is also a problem for all grains - weevils. The locally produced pastas usually come in a clear plastic bag. These locally produced pastas tend to be weevil infested more often than the name brands and although they are packaged in clear plastic you can still be fooled by be weevils hiding in the pasta.

We make lots of tortillas, pancakes, breads and cakes so for that we require a steady supply of good flour. Magnolia brand is good, but our favorite is White King @ 96PHP for a 1 kilo bag:


Just like with pastas, there are locally milled flour brands and it is even easier for weevils to hide in flour. I have been fooled a couple of times. For this reason I stick with White King, Magnolia or do without.

Can A Foreigner Enroll In PhilHealth?

Can A Foreigner Enroll In PhilHealth?

 






Table Of Contents


UPDATE

In January 2020 PhilHealth increased the premium for citizens to 300PHP per month. The new rate is 3600PHP per anum vs. the old rate of 2400PHP.

Intro


I never signed up for PhilHealth, but I did get coverage for my wife and daughter. They are both dual citizens of the United States and The Republic of the Philippines. My wife if the primary member and our daughter is her beneficiary. Foreign citizens are still eligible for PhilHealth coverage, but it costs more now.

Previously, I had the option of PhilHealth coverage as a beneficiary of my Filipino spouse. In 2017 that option was removed by new rules for PhilHealth coverage. Before the change our family could have maintained coverage for 2400 PHP per year. That's right, $50 a year. A lot of foreigners had taken advantage of this sweet deal for years.

There are a lot of changes happening with PhilHealth, so in this post I will outline my understanding of what PhilHealth can do for the expat and other foreigners.

Foreign And Expat Enrollment In PhilHealth Is Nothing New


The Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of the National Health Insurance Act of 2013 (RA 7875 as amended by RA 9241 and 10606) (RIRR NHIAct 2013) Included Foreigners.

This RIRR enabled expats and other foreigners to be covered under PhilHealth Title III:

SECTION 5. Nature and Scope - The Program shall cover the following members and their dependent/s:
b. Members in the Informal Economy – this sector would include but are not limited to the following:
6. Citizens of other countries working and/or residing in the Philippines – foreign citizens with valid working permits and/or Aliens Certificate of Registrations (ACRs) working and/or residing in the Philippines.
Can you think of any class of foreigners in the Philippines that would not be included in Title 3-5(b)(6)? It looks like all of them and there is also the "include but are not limited to," statement to really make it essentially all of them.

Foreigners have been able to enroll in PhilHealth for many years, as PhilHealth stated in its faq page back around 2010:
5. Can a foreign national enroll as an Individually Paying Member?

YES, the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 7875, as amended by RA 9241, provides for the inclusion to the National Health Insurance Program the citizens of other countries residing and/or working in the Philippines. If the foreign national is employed, he/she shall be registered under the Employed Sector Program. Meanwhile, if he/she is self-employed or merely residing in the country, he/she may enroll as an Individually Paying Member. He/she only needs to accomplish and submit to any PhilHealth office, the PhilHealth Member Registration Form (PMRF) and a photocopy of his/her Alien Certificate of Registration (ACR) issued by the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to prove his/her residency in the country.
The link to the above quote is "http://www.philhealth.gov.ph/members/individually_paying/faqs/membership.htm#m5."  The link is from about ten years ago and it is 404-ed now. 

PhilHealth's coverage of foreigners was referenced by the NIH website in 2015:
PhilHealth also allows foreign nationals residing or working in the Philippines to enroll in PhilHealth as individually-paying or employed members, provided that they present an Alien Certificate of Registration.

PHILHEALTH CIRCULAR NO. 2017-0003 CHANGES COVERAGE FOR FOREIGNERS


Circular No. 2017-0003 Paragraph VIII Eliminates The Option For A Foreigner To Be A Dependent Of A Filipino

Specific Provision #1. Foreign nationals are required to enroll as member and shall not be covered as dependent by their Filipino Spouse.
Prior to Circular No. 2017-0003, Article II Sec.4(f)(1) of RIRR NHIAct 2013 was the specific legal provision that had allowed expats and other foreigners to be included as beneficiaries of their spouse:
Article II. DEFINITION OF TERMS SEC. 4. Definition of Terms. – For the purpose of this Act, the following terms shall be defined as follows:
f. Dependent – The legal dependents of a member are:
1. the legitimate spouse who is not a member;
Whereas Title 3-5(b)(6) of RIRR NHIAct 2013 made me eligible for PhilHealth on my own standing, Article II Sec.4(f)(1) above gave me the option to be counted as the dependent of my wife and this is exactly what many expats had been doing for many years. Now that option is gone.

Circular No. 2017-0003 Paragraph III Changes How Other Classes Of Foreigners Are Covered Under PhilHealth

1. Foreign retirees or former Filipino nationals and their qualified dependents, who are holders of Special Resident Retiree's Visa (SRRV) and granted permanent residency status pursuant to Section 9 (d) of Executive Order No. 1037, dated July 4, 1985.
2. Citizens of other countries working and/ or residing in the Philippines and holders of valid Alien Certificate of Registration Identity Card (ACR I-Card).
Sec.5(b)(6) of RIRR 2013 stated that both of these classes of foreigners were already covered by PhilHealth. What changes is not who is covered, but how they are covered.

Circular No. 2017-0003 Paragraph VII: Premium Increase For Foreign Members 


The 2400 PHP per annum premium is gone for expats. Now the rate is 15,000 PHP per annum for PRA retirees and 17,000 PHP per annum if you are not a PRA retiree. This is the big change that affected every foreigner who had previously been a dependent of their Filipino spouse.

Circular No. 2017-0003 Paragraph VII: Benefit Exclusions For Foreign Members

Some of the items no longer covered for foreigners:
    1. Z Benefit Package
    2. Special privileges of Women About To Give Birth (WATGB)
    3. Reimbursement for all confinements abroad
Item (a), the Z Benefit, provides package benefits for certain major illnesses, such as kidney disease,  prostate cancer and Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery. I can see how that losing this benefit might be a drawback to some expats who are weighing whether or not to buy in to PhilHealth - but PhilHealth can still be a good value even without it.  

Item (c) many not matter to most and (b) is mitigated by the fact that many or even most expats are males who are married to Filipinas who would still be covered as citizens (if those Filipino wives had their own PhilHealth coverage NOT as dependents of the foreign spouse).

These exclusions fall upon all dependents of a foreigner who is the primary member even if those dependents are Filipino citizens.

IRR NHIA 2013 states that your spouse and children who are Filipino citizens or dual citizens of the Philippines and some other country are already eligible to be covered by the NHIP:
Article III SEC. 6. Mandatory Coverage. – All citizens of the Philippines shall be covered by the National Health Insurance Program.
It is up to the individual to weigh the value of each option, but it might be a better value to have a separate PhilHealth coverage for family members who are Filipino citizens if the three exclusions might come into play.

Circular No. 2017-0003 Paragraph VII Foreign Member Dependent Options

    Circular 2017-0003 provides two options for Qualified Dependent(s) of the covered PRA or non-PRA PhilHealth member:
      1. Filipino spouse and children below 21 years old who is not covered under the NHIP; or

      2. Either the foreign spouse or one (1) of their children below 21 years old who is not a Filipino citizen
    Under option "a" you can choose to forgo separate coverage for your Filipino spouse and children and make them all your dependents. The only case where I can see this making sense is if your Filipino spouse has not yet reacquired citizenship. If they are a citizen, then (depending upon the specific case) it might make more sense to get them their own coverage as a citizen, rather than as a dependent of a foreigner. This way they can still have the Z Benefit.

    Under option "b" you can make either your non-Filipino spouse OR ONE of your non-Filipino children your dependent. You read that correctly - option "a" makes all Filipino family members eligible to be dependents and option "b" provides for only one non-Filipino dependent.

    Circular No. 2017-0003 Lifetime Member Program

    Specific Provision #2. All foreign nationals are qualified to be covered under the Lifetime Member Program of the NHIP once they have reached the age of 60 and have made 120 monthly contributions. However, they are not qualified for the mandatory PhilHealth coverage as provided under the expanded Senior Citizens Act.
    Although Specific Provision #1 states that foreigners can become Lifetime members, there does not seem to be any additional benefit to becoming a Lifetime Member if the member is a foreigner. You are already excluded from the benefits of the Expanded Senior Citizens Act and there is no additional benefit that you are not already receiving as an ordinary member. 

    You may hear that being a Lifetime Member means that you no longer have to pay the premium, but this is not correct. Section 33 of Rule 8 of RA 7875 (as amended by RA 9241 and 10606) makes clear that if you earn over the poverty line you still must pay the required premiums:
    SECTION 33. Lifetime Member with Current Source of Income
    A Lifetime Member who obtains a regular source of income from employment, practice of profession and other means shall resume paying the required monthly premium contribution until finally ceasing to earn, provided that said income is above the poverty threshold.
    And that is for everyone, citizens included. The latest poverty line in approximately 10,000 PHP per month for a family of five. That is little more than $2000 per year for a family of five. I doubt there is a single foreigner in the Philippines that falls below that line much less a foreigner in a family of five. If you are a foreigner in the Philippines who requires public assistance, then you are liable to be deported (CA 613 Sec. 29(a)(5) & Sec. 37(a)(6)).

    What Does PhilHealth Coverage Actually Pay For 


    PhilHealth pays fixed case rates that can be found at the PhilHealth case rate search website. I just searched for "appendix." Under that search criteria the first result is code #44960 APPENDECTOMY; FOR RUPTURED APPENDIX W/ ABSCESS OR GENERALIZED PERITONITIS. The case rate is composed of a Health Care Institution Fee of P14,400 and a Professional Fee of P9,600. This means that PhilHealth will pay a maximum benefit of P24,000 for that particular ailment. An appendectomy costs approximately P60,000 to P100,000 or more and there may be other expenses that PhilHealth may or may not cover.

    The Bottom Line


    I have never had PhilHealth coverage. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post my family does have it. Within the last year our daughter was hospitalized with Dengue. The dengue did not become hemorrhagic, but our daughter's illness was complicated with bacterial pneumonia. PhilHealth saved  approximately 25% off of our total hospitalization bill of 45,000PHP. The premium for my wife and daughter (since they are both Philippine citizens) is 2400PHP per year, so that one event saved the equivalent of about five annual premiums. 

    This is approximately what PhilHealth paid:
    Room Accommodation: 60%
    ER Rentals: 79%
    Laboratory-Procedure: 35%
    Pharmacy Meds: 21%
    Physician's Professional Fee: 50%
    I had the same illness with the same complication at that same time, but  I declined to be hospitalized. There was no one else to run errands for my wife and daughter. I did have many tests and a couple of prescriptions. Since I do not have PhilHealth I paid about 10,000PHP out-of-pocket.

    So is PhilHealth worth it? It can be. Medical costs in the Philippines are already lower than in the United States. The 17,000PHP that you pay for a year of coverage in the Philippines (15,000PHP as a PRA retiree) is about what you would pay for a single month of premium cost in the US. A single hospitalization might pay you back your premium plus.

    If you have family that you don't want to take any chances with, then PhilHealth could be a good plan for you. If you are a caveman, like me, and you only go to the hospital when bones are sticking out, then maybe not.

    Ultimately, it's up to you to decide whether PhilHealth is right for your situation. But one thing stands as certain: the days of the 2400PHP annual premiums for foreigners are gone forever.

    If any of the links above for supporting documents are dead, then you may be able to locate the document that you want on our Documents Page.